Book Critique – Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling #6)

For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

My Recommendation: An exciting continuation into a series filled with Psy, Changeling and Humans, who are living together, ruled by Psy but the other two races making the playing field even. Of course there is romance, passion, war, friendship, loyalties and betrayals along the line. 

Branded by Fire is the sixth book in the long running Psy-Changeling Series by Nalini Singh, published in July of 2009. The primary plot revolves around Mercy Smith . DarkRiver Sentinel - and Riley Aedan Kincaid - a SnowDancer Changeling Senior Lieutenant.

Psy-Changeling series focuses on three races living side-by-side on Earth - The icy Psy who rule the world but are facing the fall of Silence; the Changelings of varied kind with natural mental barriers to fight the unwanted entry of any Psy into their brains; and the Humans considered the weaker of the three but have decided to level the playing field. The series shows the readers to the downfall of Psy, their drawbacks, why all three races are needed for survival of each other, and above all finding mates across races thus disintegrating the walls further.

In continuing with the series that intrigued when I picked it's spin-off, Psy-Changeling Trinity Series, here is my take on the sixth book in the parent series. This time Nalini focuses on both DarkRiver Leopard and SnowDancer Wolf Changelings. The story is still set in 2080 and begins immediately after the events in the previous book Hostage to Pleasure, opening with the mating ceremony of Dorian and Ashaya.

In Mine to Possess, we had seen that Mercy was assigned as liaison with the SnowDarncer Wolves representative, Riley. And in the subsequent book Hostage to Pleasure, there seemed to be distinct friction between Mercy and Riley. And now we have their story.

Mercy Smith is a dominant female Sentinel for DarkRiver Leopard Changelings. With all her Sentinel friends mated, she is frustrated to be the single lone one. But the one person who ticks her to the core in a level equal to her is Riley Kincaid, SnowDancer Wolf Changeling. There can never be anything between a Leopard and a Wolf, especially between those who are as dominant as they are.

Riley Aedan Kincaid knows everything about Mercy and he takes every opportunity to rile her up and push her buttons. And he certainly wouldn’t want to leave any stone unturned in his efforts to make her his. But a search for a lost DarkRiver researcher puts Mercy and Riley together testing their attraction and the growing bond between them. 

Nalini pits two dominant personalities against each other. It was an interesting journey to see how both of them neither bend nor overpower each other in their relationship and yet find a common ground for themselves to be mates forever. With this plot, Nalini also truly combines the alliance between SnowDancer and DarkRiver packs, more than just friendly alliance. She does give a surprise twist at the end for Riley and Mercy. We have to wait and see if Nalini takes that spin into a more positive note for the Changeling Packs.

Hawke, the alpha of SnowDancer Wolves has been in the stories from the beginning of the series. And so is Sienna Lauren, the defector Psy. And I have been waiting for their story to come up soon. Well, obviously there is some chemistry between them. But in this plot the scenes that Nalini spins between Sienna and Hawke wrenched my heart. Yes, I am supposed to follow Riley and Mercy, but Hawke and Sienna keeps pulling me a lot. I do hope Nalini has a story for her soon.

She did have another emotional scene for Sascha Duncan, where Dorian gives her shoulder for her pain while she awaits Lucas's return. That whole scene explains the entire dynamics of changelings in such a small scene. Although Nalini inserts subtle humor all through her plots to keep the heaviness of the more morbid sub-plots or the heavy emotions at bay.

Now I am not sure whose story I want to see next - Kaleb Krycheck, the Psy Cardinal or Hawke, the SnowDancer Alpha or Bowen, the Human Alliance Security Chief who we meet in this plot. All three of them have captured my mind. Cant wait to read their stories.

Nalini sneaks in various eco-friendly concepts and futuristic things around in her plots. In this one we see nanotechnology used in the form of chips to inhibit outside invasion; plascast and plas coated bandages - perhaps something related to plastic but with more future technology perhaps. 

We know in a series usually characters keep cropping up from books that have already completed or that would come. Very rarely we see characters from a past book that were mentioned in passing re-appear. I see a few characters that Nalini briefly mentions them again, giving a jolt in the reader's brain to figure out who or when they had been seen earlier. 

Like her other series (GuildHunter, Rock Kiss or Hard Play), there is romance and more in the plot with hidden humor that lightens the plot, taking the sting of the darkness away. She has some repeat paraphrasing. And definitely some of the concepts are beyond imaginable. It will take more than a few books for me to get the depth of all the technical jargon behind her complicated concept. She does leave a lot of inconsequential details and new characters introduced, which will definitely form meat for future plots.

A good continuation to a long running series in a fantasy word filled with Psy, Changeling and Humans, with appearance of Humans in this plot who are staking their presence as well. However, Nalini has a lot of open-ended sub-plots in here that is definitely making to look forward to read the next book as soon as possible.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Mercy's family includes - her grandmother Isabella, alpha for AzureSun pack in Brazil; her grandfather; brothers - Sage "Herb", Bastien "Bas" and Grey; her mother Lia and father Michael. 

b. Nash Baker, the Lynx Changeling, is working on nanotechnology that the Human Alliance want to use, perhaps to work on neuroinhibitors they need.

c. Sascha Duncan is pregnant. 

2. Sub-Plots: 

a. There are several Psy Designations that are thrown around by the author Nalini Singh. I wondered if there was a list of all of them some where. And true to that, some fan had posted about them here.

b. Psy terms:

i. Silence Protocol - Introduced first in 1969, conditions Psy to not feel any emotions so they can perform better. 

ii. Enforcement - similar to the Law Enforcement.

iii. PsyNet - Psychic Network that the Psy are connected to through minds.

iv. NetMind - the central controlling factor of PsyNet, the policeman and librarian encompassed together. It's twin DarkMind houses everything negative.

v. Web of Stars - the network that Sascha forms with Lucas's mind and the sentinel's minds he is connected to and their mates. With Talin, a human, joining in Mine to Possess, it becomes a true triumvirate with all three species joined together. 

vi. Cassandra Spiral - The ultimate cascade of a Psy who was breaking from Silence and being unsuccessful.

c. Various Psy we would see as the series progresses:

i. Psy Council (a panel of Psy that ruled the world with an iron fist) - Nikita Duncan, mother of Sascha Duncan, runs from California; Tatiana Rika-Smythe, runs from Australia; Ming LeBon runs from France; Shoshanna and Henry Scott, only Psy couple on the council who run from London; Kaleb Krychek runs from Mosco; Anthony Kyriakus runs fro California.

ii. Latham; Sione (an F-Psy from PsyClan Pacific Rose); Juniper (8yr old F-Psy); Gia Khan (an M-Psy); Silver Mercant (Kaleb's sr. personal assistant, introduced in Caressed by Ice, tasked by Kaleb to connect with Pure Psy and spy on); Lenik (Kaleb's admin assistant); Samuel Rain (a robotics expert); Ekaterina (presumed dead);

iii. Remaining Lauren Family - Introduced first in Slave to Sensation. Walker; Sienna and Toby, their dead sister's kids; Marlee, Walker's daughter. Defectors into the SnowDancer territory, interlinked to their own psy network LaurenNet. Sienna and Hawke have a strong attraction since their introduction. Indigo is assigned to train Sienna in Visions of Heat. Sienna is made a trainee soldier in this plot, but is sent to DarkRiver for an indeterminate time, where she bonds with Kit.

iv. Anchors: In the very first book, Slave to Sensation, Nalini alludes to at least 50 Psy serial killers who are protected by the Council as their psychic connection is needed in the PsyNet. So far three of them have been taken care of.

v. In Visions of Heat, we see:

1) Faith NightStar's father Anthony Kyriakus is the governing force of the PsyClan NightStar- the clan of Psy that begets atleast one F-Psy in every generation. He is also the leader of a quiet revolution in the Psy. She has a brother Tanique Gray and a cousin Sahara.

2) Faith's sister Marine is killed by the Psy Serial Killer. However, there are still unexplained reasons as to why she was targeted as of that plot.

vi. With more of Kaleb Krychek we see as the series progresses, he sounds more and more like an antagonist as opposed to a protagonist, especially now that we know that he can talk to DarkMind and NetMind. He is searching for the owner of a star-shaped platinum charm. Can't wait to read his tale.

vii. In Caressed by Ice, we see that the Psy Council is faced with a new enemy who calls himself Ghost, who is infiltering the Psy. I have a distinct feeling it is Kaleb Krychek, but we have to wait and see.

viii. Kaleb runs the Moscow region and he has a vision for the square beneath his official buildings. Wonder where Nalini will bring this up again.

ix. Solias King, a Psy, is apparently trying to encroach into the DarkRiver territory, with his aide and son Kinshasa in the novella Beat of Temptation. Will he surface again?

x. In Hostage to Pleasure, a Tk-Psy and a surgeon Psy aids the DarkRiver Changelings and Ashaya. Who are these new ones?

d. Arrow Squad - First introduced in Visions of Heat.

i. Vasic - First introduced in Hostage to Pleasure.

e. Forgotten Psy - Psy who never had linked to the PsyNet when Silence Protocol was implemented over a century ago. First mentioned in Caressed by Ice.

i. The descendants of these Forgotten Psy are gifted human with newer abilities. Their ancestors having mated with Changelings and Humans surviving in their own network, ShadowNet.

ii. Jonquil "Jon" Alexi Duchslaya, a fourteen year old is rescued from the facility where he was held by Psy Anchors for experimentation.

iii. Noor Hassan, another child rescued from the same facility. Keenan, Ashaya's son want to marry Noor one day.

iv. Devraj Santos - Director of the Shine Foundation that helps kids get off street, trained and educated. Rangi was the Guardian of San Francisco Shine Branch. The Foundation is gathering these descendants, training and educating them and keeping them safe.

f. Humans that we see along the course of the series:

i. 18th Century Territorial Wars - Adrian Kenner, a human, had been the one to help draft laws that ended he Changeling wars. 

ii. The Human Alliance - Human Conglomeration representing the supposed weaker species of the three. Based in Venice. In Hostage to Pleasure, they prove to be as lethal as Psy and Changeling. However, will Nalini show their positive side as well like the other two species?

iii. The paramilitary arm of the Alliance use nanotechnology to make chips that are inserted in the base of their necks to prevent from Psy attack. Chairman, it's head, is killed at the end of the plot. 

iv. Max Shannon - a Human police detective with strong mental shields, introduced first in Mine to Possess. As of Branded by Fire, he is back in New York. 

v. Bowen "Bo" - First introduced in this plot. Human Alliance Security Chief; defects from the paramilitary arm; takes over the Alliance after the Chairman is killed to lead the Human Alliance for a better and stronger species along-side Psy and Changelings; 9 other men and women support him. I have a feeling we will continue to see Bowen in future books 

vi. Alice Eldridge - First mentioned in this plot. Presumed killed. Had researched extensively on E-Psy and X-Psy. 

vii. Sara, a human intern with the DarkRiver; Lily (Bowen's adopted sister);

g. Various Changelings we see during the course of the series are:

i. DarkRiver Leopards with their territory in San Francisco and surrounding areas.

1) Lucas Hunter their alpha, a black panther. Mated to Sascha Duncan, an E-Psy. Story told in Slave to Sensation.

2) Other packmates - Kit and his sister Rina Monaghan; Zara (a eildcat); Ria, a human mated to DarkRiver leopard; Tara; Nico, Cory, Jason, Nicki, Aaron, Mia and Sarah (juveniles); Lysa; Cian; Jamie; Desiree and her mother Meenakshi; Barker; Joe (owner of Joe's Bar); Jon and Noor (adopted into DarkRiver); Keely (Pack historian); Owen; Monroe; Nicki (apprentice historian); 

3) Lucas's Sentinels (second-in commands) - Nathan "Nate" Ryder (mated to Tamsyn "Tammy" Mahaire their healer and have twin sons Roman and Julian, Story told in Beat of Temptation; Vaughn D'Angelo (mated to Faith NightStar, an F-Psy, Story told in Visions of Heat); Clay Bennett (mated to Talin "Tally" McKade, a human. Story told in Mine to Possess); Dorian Christensen(mated to Ashaya Aliene, an M-Psy. Story told in Hostage to Pleasure)

4) In Stroke of Enticement, Annie, Zach's mate, was rescued by a very young Psy boy with Cardinal eyes as a kid. The description reminded me of Kaleb Krychek. Is that who he would become? Definitely need to see Kaleb's story fast, if I may say so. 

ii. SnowDancer Wolves with their territory in California

1) Hawke their alpha. He has captured my interest more than the actual hero and heroines of any plot he appears in. I cant wait to read his story.

2) Other packmates - Andrew "Drew" Liam Kincaid - Brenna's brother; Lara (their healer); Dalton (librarian); Tai; Lucy; Elias; Greg; D'Arn & his human mate Sing-Lui; Ben (a wolf pup with designs to mate with Marlee when he grows up); Kieran (a human adopted by the pack); 

3) Hawke's lieutenants - Indigo; Riley Aedan Kincaid (Brenna's brother); Judd Lauren (an Arrow Squad Psy, mated to Brenna Shane Kincaid. Story told in Caressed by Ice); Jem;

4) Andrew becomes the eyes and ears of Hawke, leading a small set of men and women, to vet out the Wolves that are turning rogue. 

iii. BlackEdge Wolves with their territory in Moscow. First mentioned in Caressed by Ice. Selenka Durev is their alpha. 

iv. DawnSky Deer - First mentioned in Caressed by Ice.

v. PineWood Hyenas - First mentioned in Caressed by Ice. Members: Kevin; Mahal; Lou-Ann;

vi. Rats Changelings. First mentioned in Mine to Possess. Members: Teijan (their alpha); Suyi; 

vii. Snake Changelings. First mentioned in Mine to Possess plot.

viii. Lynch Changelings. First introduced in this plot.

1) Baker Family - Iain and Enid and their son Nash and daughter Willow.

ix. SilverBlade Leopard Changelings. First introduced in this plot.

1) Hamilton, a sentinel - Mercy guides him to Indigo, the SnowDancer Wolf Lieutenant for dating. Will they mate?

x. AzureSun Leopard Changelings in Brazil. First introduced in this plot.

1) Isabella - is the Alpha. Grandmother of Mercy Smith.

2) Eduardo and Joaquin (Sentinels)

xi. WindHaven Falcon Changelings. First introduced in this plot.

1) Adam - their Wing Leader; Naia - their healer; Jacques - second highest ranking member.

2) Adam gets injured in an attack from either Human Alliance paramilitary wing or the Psy in this plot.

3. Grammatical / Character / Plot / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. On Pg. 129, Line 5, it should be "…For a while…"

b. On Pg. 187, Line 17, it should be "…He knew Mercy…"


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